A little more than a week ago, Dr. Connie Ledoux Book took the reins at Elon University as president. It was historic: She became the first woman to hold the job in Elon’s 129-year history. It was a homecoming: Dr. Book was a professor in the School of Communications and then an associate provost before going to The Citadel. And it was an opportunity — an opportunity to not only continue the work set forth by her predecessor Dr. Leo Lambert but to put her own stamp on the university and direct its future.
During her remarks at the Global Neighborhood’s Great Hall on March 1, she referenced a quote from the first president of Elon College, William S. Long. He greeted the dawn of Elon as the start of “A college for the world.” Little did he know then that Elon would evolve into a nationally recognized university with a reach well beyond North Carolina with a overriding goal of creating global citizens and the kind of graduates the world needs.
As we entered the Great Hall that day, students, faculty and staff were handed pieces of paper with a heading that read, “Beginning together.” Underneath it said, “On this historic day share your hopes and dreams for Elon’s future. Go to one of the tables in the back and pen your thoughts for generations to come.” I looked at the card, noted that whatever I wrote would have to be done by hand and decided whatever I turned in would be illegible. My handwriting is simply awful after years of writing scraps of information in tiny notebooks under all kinds of weather conditions.
So I put that aside at the time and concentrated on greeting Dr. Book, someone I met several years ago in my then-role as editor of the Burlington Times-News. Dr. Book saw me in the audience as she moved through offering hugs and handshakes. She walked over to say hello, I offered my hand but she offered a hug instead. She gave and received a ton of hugs on March 1. As a member by marriage of an Italian family, I finally learned how to hug back. Dr. Book told me she heard I had retired from the newspaper and wondered what I’m doing these days. I told that I’m on her staff at Elon in University Advancement. She nodded with a smile and indicated this might be a good idea and said she was glad I landed at Elon. “i’ll see you around campus,” I said as she moved to the next familiar face in the crowd.
This week, Dr. Book emailed a thank you to the faculty and staff for the warm greeting and shared a few of the “hopes and dreams” for Elon. Many are about Elon remaining a leader in global engagement and experiential learning; community involvement and civic engagement — all the things that are trademarks of a university that has risen in prominence annually for the last 20 years.
I have no doubt Dr. Book will continue to lead Elon along this successful path. She was a leader on campus during her time as associate provost, helped found the Community Connections program — a model for civic engagement — and was a firm supporter of Elon’s initiatives. In stories produced over the course of her first week, I also noted she and I share one very important hope for Elon’s future — the creation of more scholarships and financial aid opportunities, opening the door for greater numbers of students to enroll and be exposed to the professors, programs and activities here at Elon. It’s a wealth of robust academic, athletic, entertainment and enrichment opportunities. For an 18-year-old student of lesser or modest means, coming to a place like Elon is a life-altering experience.
So my dream for Elon is that we can create more scholarships for the extraordinary Odyssey program as well as develop more Engagement or Fellows or other scholarships. I hope we can make it easier for high-achieving lower-income students, students with financial difficulty, first-generation college students or students from middle-income families to take part in studies at Elon. And what I want most of all is to see those Elon graduates make a positive impact on their communities, state and the nation.
And who knows, maybe an Elon grad from the Odyssey program will one day become president.
We can hope. I believe in dreaming big.